Dvorak: St Ludmila

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: St Ludmila
PERFORMER: Lívia Ághová (soprano), Michelle Breedt (contralto), Piotr Beczala (tenor), Ludek Vele (bass); Prague Chamber Choir, Cologne WDR Radio Choir & SO/Gerd Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: C 513 992 H
Although it was a success at the Leeds Festival of 1886, Dvorák’s oratorio St Ludmila is almost completely neglected today – a pity since much of it is very fine. Eschewing the biblical subjects beloved of English choral festivals, Dvorák tells us the tale of how Christianity was brought to the Czechs. The need to provide something quasi-Handelian for his English audience as well as emphasising his slavonic roots provides a frequently heady mix. There are some magnificent set pieces, notably the peroration which looks forward to the conclusion of the first part of Elgar’s Gerontius, and the start of the third section with its distinct pre-echoes of Janácek.

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Albrecht has been wayward with Dvorák on record, but this performance had me cheering. Not only does he give it without a single cut, he shows real conviction. The opening is a touch impatient, but thereafter nearly every tempo is well judged. Lívia Ághová, a charming Ludmila, leads a uniformly strong cast and the Prague Chamber Choir perform their huge number of choruses with distinction. Apart from occasionally untidy orchestral playing, the main problem is the balance, which unduly favours the instrumental sound; this aside, this noteworthy issue should convert anyone to an unjustly neglected masterpiece. Jan Smaczny